Let’s start with the Basics – What is a Service Dog in Canada?
Service dogs in Canada are dogs that have been trained to perform a specific task to help their handlers with a disability. Service dogs are intended to improve the quality of life of their handlers, and allow them to function independently. We all know the classic example of a seeing-eye dog that helps visually impaired individuals navigate the world, but service dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and can be trained to aid countless disabilities, including many anxiety related issues.
Disabilities can be visible, or non-visible. Visible disabilities include Hemiplegia, Paraplegia, Quadriplegia, MS, Cerebral Palsy. Non-visible disabilities include hearing impairment, stress, depression, intellectual impairments and neurological disease. Service dogs can be trained to help with many types of visible and non-visible disabilities. For example:
- Dogs can be trained to detect oncoming seizures in epileptic patients.
- Dogs can be trained to sense low blood sugar for diabetics.
- Dogs can be attuned to mental states and physically relieve stress for a variety of conditions, including anxiety, PTSD and ADHD.
How do I train my dog to perform such a complex task?
There are multiple ways to get a trained service dog.
- Buy a trained service dog in Canada.
There are professional organizations that will sell you a fully trained service dog. This is a great way to guarantee you will end up with a fully trained dog, but it will come at a high cost. Trained service dogs are extremely expensive and can go for tens of thousands of dollars.
- Take your dog to training.
There are many training services and programs that will work with you to train your service dog in Canada. They have tons of experience and you can be confident you will end up with a high performing service dog.
There are no rules or regulations on who can train a service dog in Canada and in North America and you are permitted to train your own service dog. While this will save you money, it will require dedication, patience and consistency.
Once your dog is trained, you will want to register your dog to obtain a certificate, but more on that below.
The Legal Landscape
In Ontario, Canada, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) promotes standards that organizations, including government and private sectors are required to follow with the goal of creating a more accessible community. A requirement under the AODA is that service providers operating in the public MUST welcome service dogs that are trained to assist their handlers.
This includes access to hotels, restaurants, airplanes and pretty much any other area open to the public. Companies with over a certain number of employees are even required to provide training to their works on accessibility, which includes service dogs.
How do I register a service dog in Canada?
Service dogs in Canada are not required to be certified or legally registered as service dogs in Canada or the United States. However, the unfortunate truth is that many individuals and their service dogs are turned away from public establishments unless they have “proof” that their dog is in fact a service dog. This is particularly true for non-visible disabilities. Business owners and service providers ARE PERMITTED to ask if your dog is a service dog and if they are trained to assist you with a disability, and they may want documentation which evidences that the dog is a service dog as well. Common documentation that can be provided includes:
- A doctor’s note or letter from another medical professional.
- A service dog certificate containing relevant information on the dog and handler. As there is no official department that records this information, we recommend you certify your trained service dog with a reputable and trustworthy organization that maintains their own internal and searchable registry, which provide a high level of accountability.
- A graduation certificate from a reputable trainer or training school.
To Wrap things up, registering a service dog is not legally required, but it is often necessary to be able to confirm to business and service providers that your dog is in fact a service dog.